Monday, November 19, 2007

More Ma, La La La

In the future, home cooking posts like these will include photos, but we have still not located the digital camera so sorry for the omission.

After our sample MaLa research, I ordered some Sichuan Peppercorns, and decided to try it out last night at home. Made a dry Sichuan Chicken with green onions, and man was it gooooooood.

The Sichuan peppercorns were pretty easy to work with. I roasted then in a cast iron pan and then ground them up in a mortar (picking out the black seeds which are supposed to be very bitter). To prepare the dish, I diced some chicken breast and thighs, dredged in corn starch and flour, added some dry red pepper and salt and then lightly fried and drained the chicken. Once done frying, I heated some oil and added the ground Sichuan pepper (about 1 tablespoon for 1 1/2 lbs of chicken) and some crushed red pepper (same amount) into the oil (3 tablespoons), and added the fried chicken. DO NOT BREATH IN THE FUMES. The oil quickly turned red and coated the chicken , and was whole mixture was very pungent. Green onions added afterwards and then pulled out. Served with rice and stir fried bokchoy.

At first I was worried the chicken was too bland. It had a hint of salt, but no real heat. Then it started to build slowly. The mixture of Ma (numbness) and La (heat) worked out pretty well. The Ma has a cumulative effect, and by the end of the dish my mouth was just tingling and kept me wanting more even when I was full. I'd probably add a bit more La (30% more) and a tad more Ma (20% more), but overall was really pleased with the outcome.

The bottom line is that you have to experiment with the Sichuan pepper to get it right, starting with much less than you think you will need and the building from there. Starting small. better to have a bland meal the first time then blow out our taste buds.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Turnpike Redux

From our DC-based, Pseudo-Korean correspondent

With a visiting relative in tow and fond memories of our last trip out Little River Turnpike, I returned to Hankook Kyoja last night to make sure the first dine-in wasn't an anomaly, that the food is in fact that decent. While the Dennys decor raised suspicions amongst the first timers, all were quite pleased and surprised at the food. Hankook Kyoja is on its way to becoming our default Korean, replacing HanSungOk.

We tread familiar ground with the samgyupsal (still good), but branched out with some fried mandoo, soondooboo, and seafood pancake (haemul pajeon). At many lesser Korean joints, the mandoo and pajeon have a tendency to be a 5-napkin affair (overly greeeezy), but these were very lightly battered and fried...absolutely delicious. The mandoo were particularly tasty, almost like a puff pastry, crunchy on the outside and a good mix of meat in the middle. The soondooboo was a bit pedestrian, but still enjoyable. Polished off a bottle of soju and it made for a very satisfying evening.

The service was also much improved since the last visit. So much so that we had to fight them off to let us turn our own samgyupsal on the bbq. The heart-attack casserole (sausage, bacon, ham and kimchi) seems to be calling my name...but I should probably wait until after the Thanksgiving binge to return.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Gearing up for the next review

Now that our little project is filtering out into the internet/seach world, it seems that we should start taking our reviews even more seriously that we have been already. Now don't get me wrong, we take our food VERY sriously, but if we are going to review places and those reviews are going to be read and maybe even have an impact on business for these joints, then I for one want to make sure we get it right.

The next place we are gearing up to review is Great Wall Szechuan House, 1527 14th Street. We won't be the first to review this place, but we will be the most thorough, that is for sure. ;-)

As part of our prep work, I've been learning about MaLa. Translated literally as "numbing/hot", this is the spice common to Szechuan cooking. The hot comes from red chilis, and lots of them. This flavor will be well known to spicy food junkies. The numbing, however, may not be known to as many people. This unique flavor sensation comes from Zanthoxylumm known as szechuan peppercorns. The outter shells contain hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which in adition to the pepper and lemony flavors also produce a numbing sensation similar to novacain. These are some mean little pods, that were briefly banned by the FDA but whose importation has been reopened.

The combination of the Ma and the LA is a tricky thing, it turns out. In our preliminary work at Great Wall, we found the basic balance to be too heavily on the numbing side. While the food was very good (you'll have to wait for the formal review a little longer), the MaLa dishes were a little too numbing. It appears, however, that you can request the balance you like - which is already making my mouth water for the next go round.

So get ready for some new posts and do a little research. Turns out, learning is almost as fun as eating.